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You don’t have to be drunk to be impaired

By Terry Tierney | Langley People Helping People Committee | Nov. 29, 2007

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. — You've heard the facts before - 40 percent of all traffic fatalities and the leading cause of all accidental deaths are alcohol related, and for those under the age of 34, alcohol-related accidents are the single most frequent cause of death.

However, you don't have to be drunk to be impaired.

All 50 states have laws which establish a blood alcohol level, or BAL, of 0.08 percent as "drunk driving;" however, impaired driving can begin at an even lower blood alcohol level.

The most sensitive aspect of driving is dividing attention between component tasks. One example of divided attention is keeping the vehicle within a lane while at observing oncoming cars. Divided attention can be affected with a BAL of 0.02 percent, which can be obtained by two drinks in one hour or five drinks within five hours.

The brain's control of eye movements is very susceptible to the effects of alcohol. At a BAL of .04 percent, the eye's ability to track a moving object is affected. As a result, drivers require more time to assimilate information so they process less cues, such as stop signs and crosswalks. A person can reach a BAL of 0.04 percent by consuming three drinks in two hours or four drinks in three hours.

At a BAL of 0.04 percent, people who drink are 1.4 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who are sober. At a BAL of 0.06 percent, impaired drivers are 11 times more likely to be involved in an accident. At a BAL of 0.10 percent - which is considered drunk - drivers are 48 times more likely, and at a BAL of 0.15 percent, they are 380 times more likely. The bottom line is: be smart; don't drink and drive. People may not understand the effects of one or two drinks until it's too late.

And for those who don't drink, remember to drive defensively - especially during the holiday season - because you don't know what someone else on the road has had to drink.